The web has increasingly become the primary source of information for many people. This is particularly true in the developed economies of the west. Searching for products, services, information and even people has become commonplace in virtually every household in the North America and Europe.
Numerous studies have shown that search, and other online activities have a direct impact on people’s offline behaviour too. A Yahoo study in 2007 showed that search marketing had a three times the effect on in-store sales that display advertising did. In a similar study, Nielsen reported that 86% of respondents to their survey used the web to research local businesses. A similar percentage also reported that they researched products and services on the web, even if they then made subsequently made the purchase offline, or from local businesses.
Clearly, the web in general, and search in particular are playing an increasing role in affecting people’s consumption and purchasing habits. No business can afford to ignore the web, including businesses that hitherto might have not considered their product or service offerings as being saleable on the web.
As search has been playing an increasing role in the economy, a lot of effort and money have also been spent in understanding how businesses can best profit from this. The birth and subsequent growth of the SEO industry is testament to this. SEO practitioners, along with other media research firms have conducted numerous studies into how people use search engines, and the factors the affect what they subsequently click on.
Of particular interest are the many eye-tracking studies that produce maps of what screen areas users are focusing on when they use the web. Numerous studies have been conducted, and while their results vary slightly, their conclusions are quite unanimous. Users spend more time on, and click results higher up the search results, than they do on those further down.
On a typical search engine results page, the result is an ‘F-shaped’ pattern. Users’ eye movement focus first and foremost on the top results, beginning at the upper-left hand corner of the screen, and before reading horizontally. Time is spent reading the initial results horizontally, before the scanning resumes, moving vertically down the page. The further down the results page, the less time is spent reading horizontally.
In every study conducted by the search engines themselves and by independent researchers, users spent a disproportionate amount of time on the top results, and the top paid adverts than they did with subsequent ones.
Additionally few users ever proceeded beyond the first couple of results pages on all major search engines. A Jupiter Research study has revealed that
- 62% of users click on results on the first page
- 90% of clicks are within the first three pages
- 41% of users who continue their search if they do not find their desired content on the first page change their search term, instead of viewing the subsequent pages.
- 36% of users think that a company that is at the top of the searches must be top in its particular industry.
The study had a few more findings, but they all point to one undisputable fact. It pays to be at the top of search engine result pages (SERPs). Combining the right SEO strategy with your overall online marketing efforts, will ensure that you top the field where it counts.